From Royalty to Rat-Kangaroos: Planet Comes Together to Mark World Environment Day

Sunday, June 5th was World Environment Day

nepal-river-cleaning (1)From royal families to farmers, politicians to schoolchildren, tens of thousands of people all over the world marked World Environment Day (WED) with events from Bhutan to Honduras to take action against the environmental challenges facing the world today.

At the heart of the action was Angola – the global host of WED 2016 – with the government’s pledge to crack down on the illegal trade in wildlife, which is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, joined the celebrations in Angola, where he opened a school for wildlife rangers that will train former combatants who fought in the country’s civil war.

The day provided governments in other parts of the world with a platform to launch other initiatives that safeguard the health of the planet and protect the species that inhabit it.

In Australia, the government pledged AUD 5 million to protect the world’s rarest marsupial and other threatened animals and plants. The funds will be channelled through nine conservation groups, one of which is trying to save the rare “rat-kangaroo” known as Gilbert’s potoroo, which is thought to be down to its last 30-40 individuals.

On the other side of the planet, Britain used WED to release the findings of a report that looks at the damage done to marine life from 86 tonnes of tiny pieces of plastic particles – known as microbeads and found in exfoliating scrubs ­– which are being dumped in Britain every year. The report has prompted calls for a ban on microbeads if cosmetic companies fail to remove them from their products.

World Environment Day was also touched by royalty. In Bhutan, members of the country’s royal family, including Queen Jetsun Pema, opened the country’s Thimpu Eco Park, close to one of the region’s oldest temples and home to a vast, wildlife-rich wetland.

In the boardrooms, businesses across the world used WED as an opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. India’s ICICI Bank announced plans to go paperless by shifting its services to a digital platform, a move it says will allow the country’s second largest lender to save tens of thousands of trees. In the United Arab Emirates, the country’s Honda plant recycled 1,000kg of paper to show its commitment to environmental sustainability.

But people power was at the heart of this weekend’s global events calling for environmental action. In one of the largest demonstrations of people power, 15,000 people joined a demonstration in Barcelona to protest the government’s Basin Hydrological Plan, which they say will destroy the ecosystems of the Ebro Delta which is home to thousands of migratory birds.

wedstory1 (1)Taking the UN’s call for action to heart, people formed human chains to protect an urban forest in Hyderabad, India and pristine but development-threatened coastlines in the Canary Islands while others protested the construction of a coastal road close to a beach in Mumbai.

On a sombre note, environmental activists marked WED by reminding the world of the sacrifices made by those who dedicate their lives to protecting the environment. Greenpeace called for a full investigation into the death of Berta Caceres Flora, an award-winning human rights and environmental activist from Honduras who was shot and killed while working to stop the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project – a dam that threatens a river considered sacred by the country’s Lenca Indigenous People.

“Being an environmentalist can be a dangerous, even deadly undertaking,” said a joint statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli Corpuz.

“Berta Cáceres, the Goldman Prize winner who was assassinated in Honduras in March 2016, was only one of dozens of environmentalists to be killed in recent months. Every week, on average, two environmental and land rights activists are killed and the numbers are getting worse, according to civil society figures. The situation is particularly grave in Latin America and Southeast Asia, but it affects every region of the world. It is truly a global crisis.”

Others used WED to showcase solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. In a bid to highlight the vast potential of renewable energy sources, students at GIST College in South Korea held a competition to see who could make the best strawberry yoghurt smoothie with electricity generated from bicycles.

More than one thousands events were officially registered for WED 2016. As the breadth and creativity of events begin to emerge, the United Nations Environment Programme would like to offer sincere and deep gratitude to all those who heeded the call to come together and act for the planet this weekend. Only with your help and commitment can we work to build a greener, safer, healthier planet.

Source United Nations Environment Program